Saturday, October 22, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Although my colleagues warned me ahead of time, I became a little disappointed at the low turnout for parent-teacher conferences at the end of this week. Eight parents (about two-thirds with their student) came to visit over two days of conferences (scheduled at different times to accommodate any parent working any shift). I just can't help but think, like many things in public education, there must be a better way.

I'm not sure what that better way might look like, though. I know that some schools often hold conferences at large employers in the community, but how would that work for parents who don't work there? We have a place like that in the community I teach and they often partner with the schools, but it doesn't sound like a satisfying, simple answer to me. One of our wonderful APs called the parent of every kid sitting on a D or F average in any class, so you'd think that would jump start some conferences. And I will say that out of those eight parents who showed up, five had kids who were in danger of failing. I also made sure to talk up the conferences in every note I've mailed home in the last month and called the parents of kids who seem to struggle the most.

The student-teacher across the hall said that when her daughter was in elementary school, she went to conferences all the time, but kind of tapered off as she got into high school. And she couldn't decide if she had done the right thing or not. What's the appropriate level of parental involvement? Does not coming to conference night mean you don't care? Should we have our conferences somewhere else in the community people feel more comfortable attending? For our community, the school really is a community center of sorts, so I'm not sure that's the solution.

Dear readers, if I have any, I am interested to hear what you think. How do we re-imagine the parent-teacher conference to make it worthwhile for student success?


Anonymous said...

When I was in school, the biggest complaint from parents who didn't come to teacher conferences wasn't the flexibility of scheduling (ours were always 5-9pm, so plenty of time for anyone to drop in) but the fact that they hated to wait outside while another parent was with the teacher. Sometimes parents feel more obligated to go if they have a specific time (you get 5:00 - 5:15, and it's guaranteed), because not only do they feel they won't be stuck in the hallway waiting with a sea of parents, but they feel more guilty when not attending that their lack of presence will actually be noticed. Even parents who don't mind waiting felt on-the-spot to be quick and perhaps not have the conversation they deserved to have with a teacher, because by the time it was their turn to attend, they'd been in the hallway hearing snarky comments from parents who weren't as patient. Of course, scheduling the conferences can be a pain, but with technology these days, and the number of parents who are well-versed in computers, a teacher could easily circulate a doodle poll or excel sheet to have parents sign up, and then follow-up with parents who couldn't/didn't respond. My mother was always more prone to attend when she received a call from the school requesting her presence, because then it seemed more like a duty than just a night to go somewhere if you wanted to. Many parents might not otherwise realize that their student is struggling and feel that parent-teacher conferences are only for those with students in that situation, or other troublesome concerns. Even involved parents need a little nudging at times. For added motivation, perhaps students can receive minimal extra credit, or extended advantage on an assignment, etc., for encouraging their parents to attend. In schools where students receive bonus points for dressing up on spirit days or going to a football game, this doesn't seem too unfair, especially considering the low-level of grade inflation it would really provide for.

k said...

I think I've told you this before, but last year we did student led conferences to great success. Student had to present what we were doing in our different English strands, say one thing they like, one thing they need help with, make a statement of what they would like their parents to do to help them, and then make a goal for the year. It took a lot of class time, but I think it worked well.

With the kids in the honors classes, we sent it home as a test grade assignment (we linked it to SOLs for oral presentation and writing). For our struggling students, we made them mandatory. Students whose parents couldn't come had to do their conference for a guidance counselor or administrator. All of the parents who participated really enjoyed it and I think the kids liked it a lot.

You're right though that at high school parents are a little more detached from their children's education. Many have given up, many think their kids are old enough to deal with it on their own. Maybe having students write their parents a letter and mailing it to them? Something like that? EH EH EH?